[Heartless] Marissa Meyer

I love the cover of my edition.

I love the cover of my edition.

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Heartless is the story of the Queen of Hearts before she was the Queen of Hearts, before she was cold and angry, before she called incessantly for the heads of those who had wronged her. Before she was the Queen of Hearts she was Catherine, a girl who daydreamed about falling in love and of starting a bakery full of the treats she had created by her own hands. Renowned for her cakes and tarts, she’s caught the eyes and the heart of the foolish King of Hearts, who is not what she envisions for a future husband at all. Unfortunately for Cath, her mother and father desire something more for her than a floured apron. As her future comes closer, Cath starts running out of options. If she wants to avoid her fate, she must try to find another path.

I was really excited to read Heartless because The Lunar Chronicles is a really good young adult series. Perhaps it’s because Heartless is a standalone, but I really didn’t find it as engaging as her series. I didn’t feel bored, exactly, but I felt a little like I was reading just to pass the time, rather than reading for pure pleasure. In fact, I ended up setting the book aside for a week because of work and didn’t feel a drive to return to it. Not in the way that The Lunar Chronicles had me going back.

This book is well-written but I’m left feeling underwhelmed at its overall content. I don’t know if I went into it expecting more than it was able to give, but I didn’t find this quite the page-turner that I expected it to be. I loved Meyer’s first series and had high hopes that I would enjoy this one just as much, but ultimately it’s only just okay.

The idea of before in Heartless was really interesting. I liked that it was an origin story of a character who is traditionally viewed as a villain. Catherine’s descent into the familiar red-faced Queen of Hearts was, for the most part, well thought out and written. But somewhere around the middle the book just dragged.

The first half of the book consisted of Catherine focusing on her dream and how she would gain it. When she meets Jest, the new court Joker, it should have gotten more interesting.  Heartless claimed to be about a secret courtship between them. What I got was an indecisive girl that didn’t know what she wanted and was torn between dreams and the reality of what her parents wanted. She was very whiny.  I also didn’t feel that Jest was very well-developed, so compared to Catherine, he was kind of bland. His backstory was interesting and I would have loved to see more of it, but there just wasn’t time in the novel.

I think that it’s sometimes difficult to keep readers interested in retellings when they kind of already know the story. I felt that inevitability in Heartless. It dragged down the story at times because it was inevitable who she was going to become, that the Jabberwock was going to be problem, that there was going to be something in Cath’s life that made her turn toward anger.

While the characters are familiar, only parts of their characterization are to me, because I’ve yet to read the original story. Obviously, the Hatter has to be mad, but I liked the way that his madness was explored and explained. Along with Jest, I would have really liked to see more of their lives before they met Cath. Something that The Lunar Chronicles excelled at was making a reader care about the secondary characters.

Even though I was a little slow to get through the book, I ended up really liking the ending. So much so, that I was actually disappointed that it was the end. I wanted to see more of this new Cath. The buildup into her character as a villain was worth it. This moment was perfect–just the right amount of darkness. It was just unfortunate that it was at the end, because I felt that the real strength of the book was here. You could really see that Meyer had been building to this point. More of those feelings would have benefited the book in the pages before it.

I think that this is a good retelling, it just wasn’t for me. I really loved the fact that it focused on a villain rather than Alice (who I think was only mentioned in passing). There were familiar characters who were expanded upon and it made the story richer. I only wish the novel had gotten to the good stuff sooner.

3 stars.

[The Lunar Chronicles] A series review with a focus on [Winter] by Marissa Meyer

Lunar chronicles

Although Winter came out a little under a year ago, it’s only recently that I bit the ebook bullet (so expensive!) and started the final book of The Lunar Chronicles. I had some down time, so I decided to reread the first three books. The last time I read them I did so around the time of Cress‘ publication. Long before, I think, Winter had been announced. This will be a review for the series as a whole, but I will focus on Winter. There will be spoilers for CinderScarlet, and Cress.

So briefly then, the reviews for the first three books:

11235712Cinder is a mechanic in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, a conglomeration of countries in Asia and its cultures after a fourth World War. She uses her talents to provide for her step-family, who are just as needy and rude as the Cruel Stepmother and Stepsisters in the original tale, with the exception of the youngest daughter. Cinder works diligently and keeps her head down, dreaming one day of escaping the city and the plague that threatens at any moment. When Prince Kai comes to her in the hope that the best mechanic in the city can fix his royal android, Cinder is pulled into a world that she didn’t ever think she’d be a part of.

I love familiar stories with a twist. For me, making Cinder a cyborg was a brilliant decision to make Cinder stand out as a different retelling of Cinderella. Not only is she dirty (from grease this time, not ashes), she’s not even recognized as human by her society! I had a very clear picture of what she wanted for herself and enjoyed her as a character very much. Her progression throughout the novel was steady and well-done.

I really enjoyed that the setting of Cinder. I do wish, however, that it had gone into more detail about what sorts of cultures made up the Eastern Commonwealth. I could have done with less vagueness. Chinese and Japanese motifs are mentioned at times in the decoration of robes and the palace, but it came dangerously close to not being enough. I think it would have made the reader more interested to see just what Cinder would lose if she lost.

Cinder was a fast read for me because I wanted to see what would happen next. There’s the threat of something bigger for the entirety of the novel and when that finally comes to a head, I found it very rewarding. The build to it kept me turning pages as I eagerly plowed on toward the conclusion. Of course, some of my eagerness to read came back to wanting to see how the romance progressed. However, I really enjoyed the story didn’t stop to focus on that romance. It truly is a story about Cinder and her place in the world.

5 stars.

*****

13206760Scarlet picks up where Cinder left off, with a character named Scarlet introduced and focused on as a new point of view.  She watches as the events in New Beijing unfold with a sort of detached interest, because she’s far more worried about her missing grandmother. Searching for answers, Scarlet discovers that her grandmother’s life was not as simplistic as Scarlet initially thought. As she travels with Wolf, a street-fighter who can possibly help her find some of the answers in Paris, she doesn’t know that her path and Cinder’s are fated to cross.

When I first read Scarlet I wasn’t sure how the rest of our cast would meet up–after all, Cinder focused on Cinder, so I initially thought that Scarlet would be the same. Marissa Meyer weaves the different points of view together in a cohesive way, so that when they do finally meet up, it’s really rewarding. They fit together really well, building relationships at first out of necessity but later with true emotion. Of course, there can’t be a Lunar Chronicles novel without conflict; I really enjoyed the suspense at having new crew-mates that were not entirely trusted by the others.

Unlike Cinder, I do feel like a large chunk of the plot of Scarlet focuses on the romance. It’s framed in a way that makes sense in the greater narrative of the series and the drives of the characters, but it is a little ridiculous when you think about the timeline. Because the romance is reciprocated, I feel that Scarlet is the most instant-love-y of the four novels. The rest of the plot of the novel is a little bit quest, little bit mystery, little bit coming of age. It balances out nicely, and I found that I really enjoyed Scarlet despite the slight problems with the romance. I was able to suspend my disbelief because it seemed like more time had passed. Eventually you start to see how the first two books will connect as you continue reading the different points of view that are getting closer together.  I really enjoyed reading how the plot points from Cinder were woven into Scarlet.

I enjoyed that the larger world was expanded upon in Scarlet. The other countries were mentioned in the first book, but readers didn’t get a chance to experience them. It was nice to see how other parts of the world had developed after the fourth World War mentioned in Cinder. It starts a nice precedence that The Lunar Chronicles will not just focus on one location in the world first created in Cinder.

5 stars.

*****

13206828Remember that girl that contacted Cinder back in Cinder? We finally get to meet her. Since she was a young girl, Cress has been living in a satellite in the space between Earth and Luna. She was tasked with searching for information on Earthens, something that she was incredibly talented at. When she realizes that her research has been used for negative reasons, that people are dying, she begins to think of ways to escape. Taking her chances with a rescue mission planned by Cinder herself, Cress suddenly finds herself facing more challenges that she’d ever imagined. When the rescue mission doesn’t go as planned and the group is fragmented, Cress has to search for the strength to make her way back. Her talents are still needed.

Out of all eponymous protagonists, Cress and Cinder are my favorites thus far. Cress, like Cinder, never really had anything. She had to carve out her own life using what she was given while being a prisoner. Sure, she’s allowed access to things and provided with food, but she’s trapped in a small space. This makes her interactions with other characters different, as the only people she’s ever really talked to is the Thaumaturge tasked with giving her orders. Cress doesn’t really know how to exist on Earth; she’s incredibly naïve as she experiences everything for the first time. This could get frustrating, but luckily Cress is also a quick learner. Even though there are still moments where her naïvity shows through, as the book progresses she becomes stronger and more willing to stand up for herself and her new friends. She becomes more confident. I really enjoyed her character growth and am looking forward to its continuation.

This was very nearly a 4 star book for me because of how it dragged.  It only drags on a little, but I could really feel how much longer this one was compared to the first two books. There are portions of the book where she and Throne are travelling that get long. I understand that it’s hot. I understand that they’re running out of supplies. I understand that they’re beginning to see and imagine things. I get it. I don’t need it endlessly repeated. A lot of the movement to the action of the book is done in a trudging way, which is something that frustrates me as a reader. When the plot does pick up, I couldn’t stop reading it. For most of Scarlet, they’d been hiding out on the Rampion. So when they finally start doing something against Levana, I couldn’t stop reading. We’re given more glimpses of why she needs to be stopped. Cinder begins to take more responsibility as she comes (more) to terms with her true identity. I think that everything that had built in the first two books is really explored in Cress, making it a solid climax of the series and the one with the most character growth.

This one is a bit darker than the other books. It’s first explored in Scarlet, but it’s mainly through brief, horrible moments with the promise of more to come. It ups the anticipation for the ultimate conclusion of the series. This continues in Cress, where readers are more privy to just the sorts of things that Levana is capable of and has done. Of course, knowing what Levana is capable of also means that Cinder is capable of them as well. This is the first novel where we can really see her Lunar powers in action. There’s good and bad that comes with that, which is something that Cinder struggles to come to terms with. Cinder is not necessarily all good at all times. It made her more human.

Cress concludes with a promise that everything that has been building in The Lunar Chronicles will finally come to an end in the final installment of the series. As Cinder realizes she’s becoming more powerful, she begins to  learn how to balance that with her morals. The relationships are tested as each crew member realizes just how much they have to lose in going up against Levana.

5 stars.

*****

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Not everyone believes in Levana. Winter decided years ago that her using her Lunar gift was something she couldn’t live with–growing slowly insane is a better alternative to becoming something she hates. As the stepdaughter to Levana, Winter is in a unique position to undermine her stepmother. After all, this is a woman who made her disfigure her face when she felt threatened by a child. Alone for years but for her childhood friend, Winter is eager for the chance to help Cinder and her people. But starting a revolution is harder than you think when you’re not sure what is real and what is imaginary. Everything from the first three books is pulled together in this final book of the series.

Ultimately, I found Winter surprisingly not really about Winter as much as it was about Cinder’s plans on Luna. For books named after main characters, I found that the focus in Winter on Winter was lacking. I wanted to know more about her and found her chapters really interesting. She’s unique in the sense that she’s the only other Lunar with powers that we get to read a point of view from–and she doesn’t use her powers. We know from reading the other three books that if Lunar’s don’t use their powers they go a bit insane. That’s something we finally see here. Winter could be a character who allows her problems to control her, but instead she tries to function as best she can while navigating her hallucinations. She’s strong and I wanted to see more of that. Instead it felt like Marissa Meyer was merely continuing the trend of naming her books after characters but didn’t really put in the effort for Winter to stand out. She needed to finish the story but didn’t have enough pages to do both that and proper character building for Winter. Considering that this is the longest book of the series, that’s disappointing.

This is the first book where we really get to see Luna. Although Scarlet has been there since she was taken prisoner, her view is a little limited. It was richly described with the standard dystopia trend of the upper crust having it so much better than the common folk. I enjoyed that I was finally able to see a place that thus far had only been mentioned fearfully by the Earthens. This set Winter apart from the first three books of the series because the characters were completely out of their element. They had allies on Earth and now they’re on their own. They had to start from scratch and I liked reading as they found their way around Luna and gained allies.

The plot of Winter was fairly predictable as it’s based on fairy tales, but as with the other books, that didn’t take any enjoyment out of it. I always like reading how Marissa Meyer changes the tales slightly to fit into this fantasy / science fiction tale. It’s familiar but is not one hundred percent predictable. The ending was super tidy, which makes me happy, but at the same time I felt it was also slightly unrealistic given that the whole book deals with the revolution they’re trying to start.

Overall thoughts on the series? I definitely recommend this for readers who like fantasy with a bit of science fiction mixed in. Marissa Meyer’s takes fairy tales and retells them in a way that doesn’t focus on the fact that they’re fairy tales. We’re given a unique blend of characters and settings, in a future that is removed from our current times but is also familiar. The Lunar Chronicles has a slight dystopian feel to it, but that’s not the focus of the story. I definitely will pick these books up again in the future.

*****

Final thoughts on the series:

Strengths: Strong characters and settings; romances that are believable.

Weaknesses: There are points where the plot slows a bit too much for my tastes. It allowed me to put the book down for a bit, but I also felt that it shouldn’t have happened considering the high stakes that Cinder and friends are flirting with.

The romances from best to worst:
Cress and Thorne: It built slowly and was realistic. There’s an element of playfulness that I really enjoyed. I ended up being disappointed there wasn’t more book time with them.
Cinder and Kai / Winter and Jacin: I love the dynamic of common person and royal, what can I say?
Scarlet and Wolf: While I enjoyed their romance in Scarlet, it came down to the fact that they fell in love in…two, three days? It was the most instant-love-y of the four romances and by the time Winter was concluded I was tired of their rash actions and was done with their relationship.

4 stars.

Overall series rating, not the actual average, 5 stars.